West Philippine Sea Victory Day

Senator Leila de Lima

It is lamentable that progressive and powerful countries in the world advocating strong support or protection for democratic principles have remained silent and noncommittal towards our plight over China’s egregious military build-up in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

But what makes it even more ridiculous now is a bill filed by Senator Leila de Lima seeking to declare July 12 of every year as the “West Philippine Sea Victory Day”.

I mean why call for a yearly moral victory celebration when China has positioned itself intrinsically at will to continue bullying us?

Senate Bill 2201 may be right in describing the arbitral tribunal’s decision on July 12, 2016 as a landmark victory for the country when it favored the country’s sovereign rights in the WPS, as stipulated by the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty which, among other things, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

In effect, the same tribunal invalidated China’s expansive claims ruling that it had no legal basis to claim the area within its nine-dash lines demarcation.

Ironically the opposite has happened because even as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was resolving the issue of sovereign rights over the disputed waters, China was busy developing the man-made islands into military bases with deep water ports and airports, after which all sorts of armaments were installed.

So while China would consider the area within the nine-dash line its territory, other countries were assured, if not pacified, that they would still have freedom of navigation,

How could de Lima, therefore, say it is a victory worth commemorating every July 12th when it is hollow and ineffectual, to say the least? Let us not fool ourselves.

What I am saying is that for as long as China stays militarily and permanently entrenched in our territorial waters and has claimed the rights to activities ranging from fishing to prospecting and mining for energy or mineral resources, while nobody in the world can admonish its hegemonic ambitions in the area, then one can never declare himself victorious in the true sense of the word.

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China’s maritime rescue center

 

SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

Aside from the expanding militarization of the artificial islands built by China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), what got the attention lately of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is the news that China had constructed what it called a “maritime rescue center” in Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), which is a disputed territory.

Carpio’s concern is that the Duterte’s government should not just let this pass, meaning that it should file a protest so that it cannot be said that we have consented to China’s act of putting up a maritime rescue center, whatever it means, or else it might be interpreted that we are recognizing China’s right to occupy and use Fiery Cross Reef when it is the Philippines that has the exclusive rights over it.

There is no doubt that Carpio’s legal advice is worth heeding for it is strengthening and upholding the country’s claim of the WPS according to the rules established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Carpio’s recommendation also seeks to give credence to the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration declaring, among other things, that China violated its obligations under UNCLOS with its island-building activities on several features, including Kagitingan Reef. Also, that China’s nine-dash lines had no legal basis for maritime claims.

But what good would Carpio’s proposition really do when China has established her dominion in the WPS with impunity, does not give a hoot about UNCLOS and simply brushes off the decision of the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal?

Needless to say that China is staying in the WPS forever and nobody, not even the US nor the UN, can stop their continuing military build-up in the disputed waters. The strategic importance of the place, both for military and economic purposes, cannot be overemphasized and China can only gloat for the success it has attained in having the vast area under its control today.

Had the Duterte government protested when China started building the now existing maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory, and a national environmental and air quality monitoring station, all on the pretext that it was built for humanitarian reasons?

How about when China quietly installed defensive missile systems and military jamming equipment, which disrupts communications and radar systems?

It never did.

The fact is that protesting against a superpower like China whose formidable military presence can be felt in our backyard is not only dispiriting, but is in itself an exercise in futility. We are on our own and the best way forward is not to antagonize but rather focus on economic cooperation while maintaining our self-respect.

Save Hanjin Philippines

 

The government of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is finding itself in a predicament over the declared bankruptcy early this year of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines – the Korean shipbuilding company based in the country.

Hanjin Philippines together with a big Japanese shipbuilding company, Tsuneishi, located in Cebu, has put the Philippines on the map as the fourth largest shipbuilder in the world.

But more than these companies being our sources of pride, it is about the boon it has given the country for employing thousands of workers most of which are skilled workers. Needless to say that Hanjin Philippines is one of the big employers in the country.

Whatever the truth is about the company’s closure, whether it is mismanagement, or liquidity problems to repay its debts, or the unexpected glut in shipbuilding demand, the fact remains that the huge Korean shipbuilding facility, which started construction in 2006 on a foreign investment locator within the Subic Freeport area, is not only a mecca for employment but also a valuable contributor to the economic growth of the country that it would be a grave mistake to leave it non-operational for a long time.

One can’t help but wonder why this misfortune affecting Hanjin Philippines came about when it is supposedly safeguarded by generous subsidies and strong support by government for foreign investors to thrive?

But that is neither here nor there now.

What is important is for President Duterte and his government to look for viable solutions to address what economist Gerardo Sicat described as “the biggest corporate bankruptcy to ever hit the Philippines.”

Offhand, Sicat’s glaring statement seems to warn that it would be foolish for government to declare a takeover for we are a big debtor country already, not to mention that we don’t have the capability and expertise to manage a complex shipbuilding operation the size of Hanjin Philippines.

Even Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s contention that the government’s takeover of Hanjin would result in our capability to build warships of all sorts needed to protect our territorial integrity is wishful thinking.

It would be to our country’s advantage if government instead invites the soonest possible time multinational shipbuilding companies, including China, and hear what they have to offer before the complex deteriorates.

National security breaches, as some politicians worry about, is not about the existence of foreign nationals in our country. That is nonsense. It is more about the competency and efficacy of our government operatives to make our country safe.

Finger pointing

 

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim

There is no disputing anymore that the West Philippine Sea (WPS) has been turned into a militarized zone by China. Much has been written about it and photos will prove the extent of the military build-up in the area.

But I just want to give my two cents’ on a recent news report where US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was quoted, when interviewed on ANC, saying, “I’m not sure if it’s really fair to point a finger at the United States because we’re not doing anything. It’s China that’s taking aggressive unilateral actions in the disputed area.”

This has reference of course to a remark made by President Rodrigo Duterte sometime this year that it is the US who should be blamed for the reclamation activities done by Beijing in the WPS.

What Duterte simply meant is that had the US, as the acknowledged leader of the free world, intervened early on by calling upon China to respect and adhere with the rulings of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), aggression and expansionism by China, using its historic claims of “Nine-Dash Line” could not have happened in the SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

Note that UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans; it establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Because of UNCLOS, the Philippines made a unilateral move to sue China before the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 due to China’s aggression and incursions in the WPS which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We all know by now that the Philippines won the case against China in July 2016 when the UN court junked China’s nine-dash line claim on the entire South China Sea.

Duterte therefore was right in putting the onus on the US which, unfortunately Kim willfully ignored and refrained from disproving it.

The truth of the matter is that while the US participated in the negotiations of modifications to the treaty in the early 1990s, before it came into force in 1994, and continues to recognize the significance of UNCLOS, it has, however, failed to ratify it to this day, thus, compromising its ability to peacefully resolve SCS disputes by its non-party status to UNCLOS.

It is in this context that China took advantage of the seeming absence of the US in strongly promoting rules-based approach to governance in SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

The seeming US nonchalance also failed to stop China’s impunity to increase its control and extend its authority in the region at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

No apology needed for the return of the Balangiga bells

 

Much has been said already about the historic Balangiga bells which found its way back to the church of San Lorenzo de Martir in Balangiga, Easter Samar, where it rightfully belongs, after it was readily and gladly removed from the church’s belfry as spoils of war by American soldiers during the 1901 Filipino-American war.

One can only understand how the Americans felt when the bell’s toll were used by the Filipino bolo-wielding insurgent guerillas as a signal to stealthily attack a detachment of American troops having breakfast at their garrison in Balangiga. The unsuspecting soldiers had left their rifles at the barracks thinking that having established peace they were already far from harm’s way.

This was the time when the leader and symbol of Filipino resistance, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, was captured and forced to issue a proclamation calling all insurgents to lay down their arms and submit to American rule.

Our history however of fighting oppression and subjugation that started when Lapu-lapu killed Magellan in the battle of Mactan has been always predicated on the fact that all the Filipinos wanted was humane treatment and respect over clamored reforms leading to establishing our own identity and government.

Armed rebellion in the Philippines, in whatever way seen, has always been a tacit declaration of war against foreign domination. This happened during the Filipino-Spanish war and the same colonizing mind-set of the Americans when they took over from the Spaniards the dominion of the Philippines was the same reason why animosity against the Americans also prevailed.

Thus, among the many uprisings by Filipino insurgents against the Americans, the Balangiga massacre stood out not only as a storied event but also a harrowing experience for the place and its residents when the newly replenished US troops exacted revenge after receiving orders from their angered leader, General Jacob Smith, to burn, kill and leave the place a ‘howling  wilderness”.

This utter destruction of life and property is said to have spread to the entire province of Samar with local men being killed and women and children being starved.

It is in this context that I do not understand why some group in our society still has demanded that an official and public apology be made by the US government upon the return of the bells for the atrocities committed.

War is a tit-for-tat action where someone takes revenge for what they have done by doing similar to them. In some cases the retaliatory action is beyond imagination as what happened in Balangiga.

That is all there is to it.

‘Duterte death squad’

 

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte

The infamous Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group accused by Amnesty International and local human rights advocate for widespread summary executions in Davao City, must have been in the mind of President Rodrigo Duterte when he announced that he would create his own hit squad, if that is what it takes to counter the Sparrow Units employed by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Naming it the ‘Duterte Death Squad’, the president said it will try to match the communist rebel’s “talent in assassinating people.” An eye for an eye, as the saying goes. As if this is what is legally meant by extracting justice from the rebels.

Perhaps tired and exasperated that to this day government soldiers and policemen continue to be sitting ducks of the NPA’s hit men and hopeless that there will ever be peace while Duterte and exiled-CPP head Joma Sison continue to bicker, the former could not help but express his frustrations this way in his speech during the turnover of housing units for the military and police at Camp Rajah Sikatuna in Carmen, Bohol recently. The reality is that the plan is better said than done.

It is bad enough that to this day also there has not been any let up pertaining to killings in the government’s fight against drugs and if we have to believe that the formation of the ‘Duterte Death Squad’ is bound to happen then we simply have to admit that the country will no longer be govern by the rule of law.

But the presidency is so powerful, what with all the intelligence and resources the occupant has at the tip of his fingers that resorting to this foolish plan of creating a death squad is nothing short of being irresponsible.

Besides, Duterte as an astute lawyer and as the president of the country knows what is good for him and what is best for the country, but above all what weighs more for consideration is the legacy he wants to leave behind and how history would judge him.

Suffice to say Duterte’s announcement was just a metaphor and should not be taken seriously.

 

Mockery of justice

 

Imelda Marcos

The much long awaited arm of the law has finally caught Imelda Marcos’s sticky fingers and most Filipinos rejoiced declaring the special anti-graft Sandiganbayan court’s conviction of her on seven counts of graft as victory for the people.

Imelda was found to have made a total of $200-million bank transfers to seven Swiss foundations of her own creation during her incumbency as Metro Manila Governor. Not only that. She and her despot husband were also found deliberately using aliases to hide the crime.

This means that the 89-year old widow now faces a sentence that will keep her incarcerated for over forty years, if indeed the penalty from six to eleven years for each count of graft happens to be the case.

But, is it time for rejoicing really?

By victory the people would have expected that with the conviction immediately thereafter a warrant for her arrest would follow.

Alas, it did not come to that. On the contrary, Imelda, a congress representative from Ilocos Norte, continues to enjoy freedom after she posted bail of P150,000. It said that the Sandiganbayan allowed her to post bail while it is still deciding whether or not to grant her appeal for post-conviction remedies.

If this is not a mockery of justice, I don’t know what is.

This is the same mockery of justice observed when former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, then 92 years old, was freed after spending a year in hospital arrest when he posted P1.45-million bail bond over the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.

Certainly among the post-conviction remedies to be discussed is age consideration and if it was able to release Enrile, why would it still send Imelda to jail especially that she is also having health issues?

This would not have been disturbing and frustrating if we knew that there are not old, sickly people languishing in jail as this piece is written, but the reality is that there are plenty and for reasons that some may be inside because of miscarriage of justice.

The same cannot be said, however, of Enrile, and now of Imelda Marcos.

Justice is suppose to be triumph over evil, but in the case of Imelda, and even for Enrile, evil still favors giving mercy to the privileged.

Perhaps Orson Welles was right when he said, “Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck.”